The Moving Image 3.1 (2003) 161-163
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Magical History Film and Video Bus Tour. Florida Moving Image Archive, January 2002
Once archives acquire amateur films, they are confronted with the problem of use and access: are these movies simply records that can be used as evidence for future PBS compilation films, and/or are they fetishized objects of preservation? Can they be reactivated and reinserted into the communities that spawned them to create a vital public dialogue? What is their relationship to history? How do they map geographic space? What historical contradictions do they crack open? Because home movies and news films are fragments and traces, what is their connection to other historical documents, periods, movements, and communities?
What repressed discourses and practices do they chart?
Although these questions pose significant and endlessly debatable theoretical issues for historiography, I found a very ingenious, practical, eye-opening, and fun solution at the Miami Film Festival this year. I took the ninety-minute ride on the Magical History Film and Video Bus Tour organized by the Florida Moving Image Archive (FMIA). And I experienced firsthand how amateur films in a dynamic context can energize history, a kind of twenty-first century reinvention of the Soviet kino-trains.
This bus tour was no dry, earnest, monotone educational session. Rather, the quite visceral sense of jumping across decades, politics, arts, ethnicity, and architecture was exhilarating and surprising. It was a model of what historiographers call contiguity, the idea that combinations may explain more than causality and linearity. On the tour, juxtaposed with news, history, and concrete places, the home movies acquired an urgency and depth as historical [End Page 161] documents and as ideology that watching them alone could never sustain and inserting them into an analogy documentary would flatten. Images from the past on the screen contrasted with images out the window in a dynamic, constantly shifting montage of collision.
Since the postwar period, Miami has been a major tourist destination, a cultural phenomenon that provides a larger cultural context for the idea of a tour and fertile ground to tap the history of popular entertainment in nightclubs, television shows, and movies. During the film festival, the bus tour featured Paul George, an urban historian specializing in South Florida. George—a human CD-ROM of South Florida history, politics, and culture—linked the past in the home movies on the bus monitors with the present rolling by outside the windows. Home movies of families playing on the nearly undeveloped beachfront in the 1950s contrasted with the models of high fashion parading down a clogged Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.
As we passed the site of the Red Carpet Club, a well-known gay bar in Miami Beach, images of police raids appeared on the bus screens. George explained that the gay community, although marginalized in the 1950s, largely motored the resurgence of Miami Beach. This same neighborhood, for example, now boasts the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. As we passed Mt. Sinai Medical Center, home movies of its former incarnation as the Nautilus Hotel, designed by Carl Fisher (the legendary developer known as Mr. Miami Beach), showed historical change. George noted that before World War II the hotel was restricted: it did not permit Jews. Later, the bus took us to Temple Emanu-El, one of the oldest synagoguesin Miami Beach, while we watched home movies shot outside the temple.
With over five hundred hours of home movies from the 1910s to the present, and over ten million feet of local news film collected since 1949, the Florida Moving Image Archive houses a rich, variegated record of one of the most multicultural, international, and complex cities in the United States. Its massive collection of amateur film is among the largest in the United States. FMIA's location in Miami—often referred to as the place where North American and South American cultures converge—offers enormous potential to dig out unknown histories and the images that map them. Miami has large African-American, Cuban, Haitian, Jewish...